SAIIER 2019:Isai Ambalam School

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SAIIER 2018-19
Isai Ambalam School


Isai Ambalam School is located on the periphery of Auroville, adjoining both Alankuppam and Kottakkarai villages. The school includes a crèche, primary and middle school. In the last academic year there were 130 students in total.

The aim of the school is to support both children and teachers to reach their highest potential and to follow the principles of integral education.

The school broadly follows the CBSE syllabus and is up to the 8th grade. All the children are registered from 1st grade under CBSE at New Era Secondary School (NESS), where they may choose to continue their 9th grade to 12th grade. Isai Ambalam has qualified and well trained teachers and many youth and volunteers. This includes 11 Engineers who work with the children in science, technology, programming, electronics and mathematics. The medium of instruction is English, but most teachers and classes are bilingual.

This year the focus was supporting the ability to plan well and reflect to move towards perfection. This year we also worked on bringing joy and happiness through team building. “Alone we can do so little; but together we can do so much” as the quote goes did see itself in action at Isai Ambalam School.

Activities of the year:

The highlights of this year were as follows:

  1. Education by Design
  2. Teacher training and team building
  3. Annual performance
  4. A movie created by RV and Claire about the school activities (15 minutes)
  5. The ‘support-a-child’ program has been able to support all the children at the school
  6. Students' participation in state level Judo competition

1. Education by Design

Here we highlight some EBDs and their context in the last year. This year we looked at celebrations as fun and an opportunity to learn, especially Republic Day celebrations and Pongal. We also took up academic topics of which the projects on solar system, birds, Indian governance and elections, and 5 types of lands are described here.

Republic Day celebrations

         We took the opportunity of Republic Day celebrations this year to learn more about India. The question of why we celebrate Republic Day is usually abstract for children. So we came up with three topics for the children: (1) to learn about the social diversity of India, (2) to come up with theories on why there is diversity, and (3) to come up with what makes us all one.
         As children made teams and started learning about different states, they had the idea of creating India as a collage and adding each state as they presented their learning about a state. They used thermocol and created an embossed prototype of the states of India with foam-sheets of different colors indicating the states and explaining its cultures, food & crops, rivers, etc. From this the ‘Republic Day’ project evolved into a much larger learning process. In the end we made two large India maps, each measuring over 6 ft. height. One was made with thermo-col and chart-paper pasted on the surface. Here, the information collected by children was pasted on top of the chart. The second India map was made with foam pasted on the thermo-col. These were made for the younger children to understand the political structures of India. They made each state into separate parts and joined them to make a full map. As they were putting the map together like a jig-saw puzzle, they needed to be accurate for state boundaries to line up perfectly. This was a delicate and careful affair. In addition, they made another pattern with foam sheets for future reference for doing some projects like rivers.


Isai Ambalam 2019 - foam cutting.jpg


         We had less than a week for this project. So the students decided to stay at school over-night for a couple of days before Republic Day. Some of the teachers and volunteer-teachers from STEM Land supported them during their work at night as well.
         On Republic Day, team by team the children shared their learning about each state and added it to bring up the large India map. The teams formed across all grades from 1st to 8th, divided into 29 groups. The children collected information on food, clothes, state-animals, state-birds, freedom fighters, saints and local languages. Initially, we didn’t think about the contribution of the crèche and kindergarten children. But they learned and prepared the everyday greetings of all the states, and started the presentation of each state by greeting everyone in local languages.
         When Sanjeev R. (our Principal) addressed everyone, he reminded children of the three questions of which the first had been answered in detail by the children. For the second question, the children had some theories based on geography and history to explain some of the clothing and food differences. The third question, of what makes us all the same, had stumped the children. Many had researched rivers that went through many states, mountain ranges, but nothing seemed acceptable. Sanjeev then asked if it appeared India was a country only by choice and this is the choice we celebrate as Republic Day. He then went on to add that it was a choiceless choice and our underlying spirituality binds us together. He simplified spirituality as: being good, wanting (aspiring) to be better and doing good to others – explaining each with an example from school life. He also linked this to the 5 dreams of Sri Aurobindo which encompass a vision for a just world.
         While collecting information, one student in 8th grade wondered why West Bengal is in the Eastern part of India. Such questions, and looking for their answers, brought up the history and deeper understanding for the children as well as some teachers :).


Pongal celebration

         This year, we celebrated Pongal in Isai Ambalam School with much gaiety and enthusiasm.  We went along with the Pongal atmosphere and planned to have a kolam competition and some traditional games. We decided to use Mother’s symbol to create a space for everyone to make Kolams. The outer circle had a radius of 18 m, the middle 6 m and the inner one 3 m. The outer circle was divided into 12 parts and the children were split into teams of 5 each. The middle circle was divided into 4 parts and given to teams of teachers. The inner circle was left to prepare Pongal in a mud pot traditionally.
         After a week of examinations, everyone was chirpy on Friday morning. We had set to celebrate in the afternoon before the school was closed for 9 days' vacation. We figured out as to where materials in bulk and cheaper price can be purchased. This time we got colour kolam powder from Tindivanam and a 50 kg sack of white powder was bought from the Pondicherry market. There was a lot of happiness and joy while making the kolams. There wasn’t any hierarchy to make the kolam, everyone selected their area and color randomly.
         This is the first time we had a kolampotti and everyone was supportive about it. The joy of creating a kolam was something that everyone shared. Some young kids also very naturally stepped in and made an outline for the entire kolam.
         A few boys said they can make better kolams and dared the girls. At the end, the boys walked away with the first prize. STEM Land teachers judged the best kolam and as the practice is, gave away pumpkins as a prize for the winners.
         For the celebration we also had a few traditional games for the teachers and students like tug-of-war and ‘Uri Adithal’. After that, Ammas made Pongal in front of everyone. All the children and teachers stood in a circle. After doing the pooja, Pongal was distributed to all.


Isai Ambalam 2019 - Pongal celebration 2.jpg


Solar System EBD

         1st and 2nd grade students participated in this EBD and their task was: to understand and find a way to present the solar system and imagine what would happen if everything stopped moving.
         The outcome of the challenge was that they learned about the 8 planets and created their own song after learning more from the teachers about the planets. They were able to read and write about every planet in nearly 50 words. They could respond to the teachers' questions. At the end of the project they drew the pictures and made a model of the solar system as a group.
         While doing this project, we could see skills like communication, creative thinking, collaborating with each other and the quality of works much improved among the students.


Indian Governance and Election EBD (6th, 7th and 8th graders)

         Given the elections coming up children wanted to learn about the election in India. They started with the word Democracy (‘of the people, for the people and by the people’) and went on to learn about governance in India.
         During the class, children would come with questions. These questions would result in research to find the answers by themselves, and then what they learned would be discussed in the next class resulting in further questions about details. This encouraged them to be independent to find the answers. Through this process they found about the different forms of government: Central government, State government and Local government – their roles and those who are in office.
         Whatever children learnt, they presented it in the assembly for the whole school to know. They watched a video on the election commission process of election. After learning about this, children wanted to conduct an election at their school. The students came up with many interesting suggestions to improve the school and support the younger children. These included working with younger children on mind-storms, educational music during their bus ride, education on plastics and cleanliness with younger children and much more. They built a voting machine using Raspberry Pi. They split the children into three groups like two parties and one election commission. Their work was captured by multiple newspapers including The Hindu.


Five types of Land EBD

         5th and 6th grade students did an EBD project in Tamil about the five types of land in South India. We took up the question “How was the state of Tamil Nadu divided into 5 parts in the 5th century A.D.?” Before going deeper into the subject, we tried to find out the occupation and the people connected to each type of land. They found it difficult to find more about the Palai land (desert).
         The students were divided into five groups, and each group took up one type of land and started finding the information through the internet, books and interviews. After sharing the information, they wrote it in a chart and drew pictures based on their lands. They learnt about the culture of Kurunji (hill station), Marutham (field), Neithal (sea-shore), Mullai (forest) and Palai (desert). They also learnt about each one's occupation, food, daily routine, entertainment, trees, grains, flowers, clothes and weather.
         The children went to the Pudhukuppam sea-shore village with their questions and interviewed the fisherman and wrote it on the chart paper. After collecting all the information, each group wrote songs about their land. They drew the picture of five types of land on a cloth of about 2x2m. All the students participated in the drawing. Finally, they gave a presentation by way of song, dance, verbal sharing of information and what they created through the EBD.
         We were able to notice the collaboration, creative thinking, communication, aesthetic and quality consciousness among the students.


Bird EBD

         The children had been studying birds for some days. The 4th grade children were learning about local birds and their habitats. They were also interested in learning about beaks and legs of different birds and why they are different. We gave them access to computers, books and bird cards to learn and research. We also showed them a documentary on Hummingbirds.
         They were fascinated to see hummingbirds being so swift in flight. Since they had learnt about flowers in the past, children also picked up the fact that hummingbirds and flowers are interdependent on each other. Children cut out shapes of birds and hung them in strings to make them fly. Some of them were very happy to draw birds and colour them.
         We also decided to take the children to Vedanthangal to visit some of the migratory birds.


STEM Land activities:

         STEM Land has brought in many scientific and mathematical teaching materials by which the students are capable of manipulating all kinds of scientific, technical, electronic and mathematical concepts. Some of these were captured in the EBDs above.


Isai Ambalam 2019 - presentation.jpg


2. Teacher training and team building

This year we focused on creating competence and team building in multiple ways:

a. Research on improving planning and reflecting on execution
b. Stewardship for New Emergence and Amma Appa program
c. Drama workshop
d. The three principles of True Teaching of Sri Aurobindo

The research is described in our research project report. We will be describing the three principles of true teaching of Sri Aurobindo here.

During a week-long holiday in April 2019, all the teachers (full time and part time volunteers) participated on a workshop on the ‘Three Principles of True Teaching’ set by Sri Aurobindo. We started with an invocation followed by silence. We read the text, discussed and understood the concept, wrote down what everybody has understood, and had good insights. The insights of some of the teachers are as follows:

  • Sundar: To be more of a learner and guide is what is expected of me in Auroville.
  • Naveen: I am able to still myself, I am able to reflect on my teaching and find alignment with the three principles. I acknowledge everyone who shared as it helped me learn.
  • Pratap: As a teacher, I need to have a beginners mind. The week helped me get into the depth of the three principles.
  • Poovizhi: I was able to reflect on how I interact with the children. I was able to notice that all of us are on a path of growth and the only difference is when we were born.
  • Kavitha: I don’t want to be a taskmaster and know it all. I want to be a child and learn with the children.
  • Nirmala: I have been doing many activities at the school and now I notice what such activities develop and support.
  • Jagadambal: I have learned to not think of myself as ‘teacher’, but a learner of many children's minds.
  • Vasantharani: I want make a good environment for children and learn with them.
  • Siva: The sessions were deep and made me wonder am I fit to be a teacher. I feel now that teaching is such a responsibility and I wonder how to implement these in my classroom. I feel I have been focusing on the product rather than the process and I want to explore how to find out what each psychic being needs.


3. Annual performance

This year we conducted the school’s Annual Day performance a little differently. We had two sessions, one for the crèche through 2nd grade, and another for the 3rd – 8th grade. There were a variety of worthwhile programs including ‘children’s grip’ and ‘prowess of the academic’, awareness programs on social problems (alcoholism & the plastic menace, both presented as dramas), display of extra curricular activities including Judo, Silambam, drumming, tabla and a few dance programs. A short play was performed in Sanskrit by the elder kids. The program started at 4.00 pm. and finished at 7.30 pm., where over 80 parents had stayed till the end of the performances.


4. A movie created by RV and Claire about the school activities

RV and Claire have created a 15-minute video about Isai Ambalam School. It was also shown to the parents during the Annual Day performance.



5. The ‘support-a-child’ program has been able to support all the children at the school

The support-a-child program started in August 2018 when we partnered with Asha for Education, Bangalore. Phase-I included 68 children (from 3rd grade onward) and the remaining 62 were supported in the phase-II. Now all the total 130 children are supported by this program.


6. Students’ participation in state-level Judo competition.

This year 27 students from our school participated in the state-level Judo competition in Pondicherry. Out of this, 7 got gold medals, 4 silver and 3 bronze medals.

The students also gave Judo demonstrations at Achariya school, Venkateswara school and Udavi school.


Outcomes:

This year the crèche focused on understanding simple instructions, knowing information about mosquitoes, Kangaroo, Ostrich, Butterfly, frog, Christmas, fish, Ganesha, trees, flowers etc. The children have been given 8 developmental activities to know about the different types of tastes, colours, soft & hard and more activities based on fine muscle developments.

In Kindergarten, 8 children learnt more than 400 words in Tamil and 300 words in English. The teachers have trained the children to do the everyday work with perfection. For example, to keep the footwear orderly, the mats properly, the drawing notebooks one by one, etc. They did a project on Christmas and celebrated.

In 1st and 2nd grades, all the children are able to recognize words and sentences in Tamil. They are able to read words and sentences through phonics in English. They are able to handle the teaching-learning material for the maths to understand the concepts.

In 3rd and 4th grades, children are able to read the English text with understanding. In the puppet show, they are able to communicate fluently in English. They are able to do additions, substractions and multiplications mentally. They have done many EBDs to understand the concepts of the lessons.

From 5th to 8th grades, they have done many EBDs related to real-life endeavors like Elections, use of Bamboo (finally creating a Bamboo tower-cum-ladder), organic soap, garden-fencing, etc.

We have started a blog to share some of the activities of the school: isaiambalamschool.wordpress.com/blog

Future direction:

We will get closer to our optimal strength of 160 children (16 children in Crèche, Kindergarden, 1st up to 8th grade). The Foundation for World Education has approved a grant for our new project on “Empowered children, Healthy homes” with a focus on better health at the school and homes. It will also support the development of the land we would like to lease next door.

We also plan to further our research on “Personality development to build a constant Aspiration”. We will focus on these two projects and improve our skills, quality of education at the school and reinforce our aspiration to a higher and deeper life.